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The iPhone: Complete review

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There are also several things the iPhone doesn’t do that the iPod does. It won’t output video to a TV, for one, and its iTunes synchronization process is much more like Apple TV than an iPod. I often drag-and-drop music and video onto my iPod when I attach it to my Mac, but the iPhone will only sync with a library or playlist on a specific Mac or PC. If you want to drag-and-drop, you’ll need to do it into a playlist that you’ve set to sync with the iPhone.

There’s also no support for embedded lyrics in music files, and no voice-recorder support, either with the iPhone’s internal microphone or with various iPod voice-recorder add-ons.

And there’s more

It’s easy to focus on the iPhone’s four core programs, but there are 12 other icons on that Home screen. A few of them are full-blown applications, while others are nothing more than simple Dashboard-style widgets.

The Text program, which has been built to resemble iChat, works quite well as a messaging tool for the cellular network’s SMS text-message protocol. I was able to send messages directly to other phones, status updates to via its SMS gateway, and even chat with someone who was using iChat via AOL’s SMS gateway.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that Text can’t send MMS messages, which are similar to SMS messages but can contain multimedia. Because of this limitation, you can’t send a picture you snap with the iPhone’s camera to another phone via Text. (You could send that photo via email.) What’s worse, the iPhone has no support for any Internet-based instant-messaging network. AOL’s SMS gateway works okay in a pinch—and when your buddies are initiating the chats—but it’s no replacement for a full-blown AIM buddy list. And if you’re in a location where you’ve got Wi-Fi network access but no cellular service, there’s no fallback.

The iPhone is dying for a full-blown instant messaging program, and Text doesn’t fit the bill. Although I don’t have any inside information, I assume the choice of SMS support over instant-messaging support has something to do with the fact that AT&T makes money on SMS message plans. But SMS simply isn’t a replacement for instant messaging, and Apple should make the addition of a chat program a priority for a future iPhone software update.

The Calendar and Notes programs help the iPhone fulfill its role as a personal information manager, but they’re like night and day when it comes to their utility. Calendar is implemented beautifully, with a useful Day view and a mega-useful List view of all upcoming events. You can add and edit events and sync them back to iCal on your Mac.

Calendar’s big limitation is that it doesn’t color-code differences between different synced calendars, and new events can’t be assigned to particular synced calendars—they all automatically get assigned to a single, default calendar. And neither Calendar nor any other iPhone program will let you display or edit your iCal to-do lists.

In contrast, the Notes program is fairly useless. It’s cute, with its brow header and yellow legal-style ruled background. But notes don’t sync back to your Mac, so you have to email them from your phone if you ever want to free them from the iPhone. And not to get too font-nerdy on you, but the Marker Felt font used in Notes is extremely ugly and, sadly, can’t be changed. (Here’s hoping that when Leopard arrives, with its system-wide support for notes, you’ll be able to sync iPhone and Mac notes.)

If there’s ever been an example of Apple’s software-design prowess, it’s the Maps program on the iPhone. Maps is powered by the same data you get when you visit Google Maps with your Web browser, but its interface is so slick—from the ease of finding addresses in your contacts list to the whizzy turn-by-turn direction animations—that it not only puts the Google Maps implementations on other cell phones to shame, it makes the Google Maps Web site itself look dowdy.

The only thing missing from the Maps equation is that the iPhone doesn’t know where it is. Not via built-in GPS (it has none), nor by triangulating signal strengths from nearby cellular phone towers. It’s too bad, because with some knowledge of where it’s currently located, the iPhone’s Maps program would be perfect.

A trio of iPhone icons—Calculator, Stocks, and Weather—will be familiar to anyone who has used their Mac OS X Dashboard Widget equivalents. They’re harmless, attractive, and functional. They also point out how, before too long, the iPhone’s Home screen will need some sort of management tool. Not just because Apple will no doubt add to the 16 icons currently on the screen—but because some people will want to hide icons that they don’t use. For example, I wouldn’t mind if I never saw the Stocks icon ever again. I’m sure someone else feels the same way about Weather. And who knows? Perhaps those who hate math might want to kill Calculator.

The Clock program, on the other hand, is more than just a pretty face. Yes, it lets you see what time it is in major metropolises such as London, Moscow, and Cupertino. But it also lets you add multiple alarms (unfortunately only using ringtones, not the contents of your iTunes library), set a stopwatch, or initiate a countdown timer.

The least exciting, but most useful, of the iPhone’s 16 Home screen icons is Settings. This is where everything behind the scenes on the iPhone happens. The preferences for the iPhone in general, and individual programs in particular, are all located here. From Settings, you can send the iPhone into Airplane Mode (which turns off all its radios, including cellular, Bluetooth, and Wi-Fi), connect to a Wi-Fi network, and even connect to a corporate VPN (Virtual Private Networking) server.

I was able to connect to my office’s VPN a few times, although I was unsuccessful on some occasions. And I ran into an annoying bug: despite the fact that I asked iPhone to remember my VPN password, it insisted on asking me for it every time I tried to log in.

Power on

The iPhone tech specs claim battery life of up to eight hours of talk time, six hours of Internet use, seven hours of video playback, 24 hours of audio playback, and 250 hours of standby time. Apple arrived at these figures under testing conditions that may not necessarily reflect your own use.

Macworld is running battery tests of our own, and we’ll post the findings once we have them. But Macworld staff have been impressed with the anecdotal results we’ve seen so far, given the number of tasks you can throw at the iPhone—often at once.

The AT&T factor

Unlike other Apple products, the iPhone is the result of a partnership between Apple and AT&T, the company that’s exclusively providing the cellular network for the iPhone. iPhone owners must be AT&T customers, and commit to being AT&T customers for two years.

The result is that it’s fairly hard to judge AT&T aspects of the iPhone. While I’ve been an AT&T customer (and before that Cingular, and before that—oh, the irony—AT&T) for years and have been relatively happy with the service, I’ve also heard from many people who hate AT&T’s cellular service. Add to that the fact that every cell phone user tends to use their phone in a different set of areas, each with their own particular coverage characteristics, and that makes it difficult to give any cellular carrier a broad judgment. What might be great service for one person might be horrendous for another.

In addition, I’m aware of numerous complaints from iPhone buyers—including at least one on the Macworld staff —about long, drawn-out issues with activating their phones. Still others have complained about poor customer service on the part of Apple and AT&T during the product’s first days of existence. Without downplaying those issues, it’s worth noting that neither Apple nor AT&T has ever released a product like this before, and it’s not surprising that both companies are still figuring out how to handle the attendant customer-support issues. If you’re changing from a different carrier and are skittish about AT&T handling the changeover, you might want to wait a few weeks until the initial surge of iPhone sales drop off and both companies have learned some valuable lessons about how to handle iPhone activations.

If you’re not sure AT&T is the right carrier for you, despite your interest in the iPhone, my advice is even more amorphous: Find someone who uses AT&T and who uses their phone in the same places you do, more or less. See how their experience is. Or ask a friend to borrow their AT&T phone for a couple of hours and take it to the places you tend to use yours, so you can see for yourself.

Macworld’s buying advice

In both hardware and software, the iPhone is a truly new creation. In the technology industry, we tend to call these “1.0 products,” and many savvy consumers choose to wait until a second version arrives, presumably with the original version’s bugs worked out.

The iPhone certainly has room to grow, and there’s no doubt that future versions will build on the impressive list of features in this initial product. But let there be no doubt: this first iPhone is an impressively polished product, with none of the haphazardness that we’ve come to associate with anything 1.0.

Among its liabilities are some features that ideally would be addressed via software updates, including adding instant-messaging support, some method of selecting text and moving it between programs, a faster quick-dial feature, Flash support in Safari, and improvements to the Notes program including the ability to sync it with the Mac. Other weaknesses, like its lack of support for faster cellular networks and absence of GPS capabilities, will have to wait for a new version of the iPhone’s hardware.

But the iPhone’s positives vastly outweigh its negatives. It’s a beautiful piece of hardware with a gorgeous high-resolution screen and a carefully designed, beautiful interface inside. The iPhone’s touchscreen keyboard will end up pleasing all but the most resistant Blackberry thumb-typers, making it an excellent device for email. Its Safari browser cleverly condenses full-blown Web pages into a format that’s readable on a small screen. Its iPod features make it a versatile audio player and a drop-dead gorgeous video player. And, yes, it does pretty well at making phone calls, too.

To put it more simply: The iPhone is the real deal. It’s a product that has already changed the way people look at the devices they carry in their pockets and purses. After only a few days with mine, the prospect of carrying a cellphone with me wherever I go no longer fills me with begrudging acceptance, but actual excitement.

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